Agent, Whisper Thy Name

Why is it I’m reluctant to talk about agents?

Those of us who are long in the tooth—I look in the mirror; am I? Are they longer than they used to be?—remember a time when there were a lot of things people didn’t talk about or talked about only in whispers. No one just said the word cancer, for instance. It could only be whispered. I remember my mother telling me the son of a friend was “a little bit <whisper>queer.” Which is like a little bit pregnant. Which was yet another word that was often whispered. Yes, I digress.

When someone whispered the word “cancer” the mention was usually accompanied by a shake of the head, a sigh, a quiet “oy.”

That’s how I feel about agents. I don’t currently have one. See? I just couldn’t say it without the “currently.” When someone asks if I have one I often say simply “The best one I ever had died.” It’s true. And then I got another one and like a love affair that should never have happened, it just didn’t work out.  I had written a scifi book instead of another mystery and when I went looking for an agent I didn’t have the who-you-know edge. Finally I just sold it myself.

I don’t think I’m the only one in this leaky boat. Mention “agent” to a lot of writers these days and you get the sideways glance, the twitch, the mumbled evasion.

Now I’m wrapping up The Pepsi Cola Ninth Street Grocery  and starting another Jake Samson mystery. As terrified and confused as the agent population seems to be, I think there are a couple of people I’d like to talk to about these very different books and I might just do that but I won’t tell anyone.

It’s too embarrassing and depressing when you get letters that say things like “I love this book but I don’t think I  can represent it but then again I’d like to but I won’t. But I could be wrong. I hope I’m not wrong. Oh, well, Who knows?”



12 Responses

  1. Well, Shelley, I’ve been through four agents. The first one sold my first (non mystery) novel, but neither of us made any money to speak of, and he quit to start an antiquarian book business. The second tried but didn’t sell anything but I adored her, lunched with her in NYC, and mourned her when she died, age 92. The third was my own (late) husband, who always wanted to be a literary agent and so I bought the stationery and set him up. He actually “sold” my first mystery to St Martin’s before I fired him—and got the fourth agent, who sold four subsequent mysteries to SMP. When she refused to try a small press, I ended our relationship and am now my own agent, and quite happy with the job.
    So no more of those depressing rejection letters! I’m not going to write them to myself!

  2. I’m reminded of the old joke:
    Q. How many agents does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    A. Sorry, we’re not screwing in any new light bulbs at the moment.

  3. Actually I was thinking you need one from Little Italy.

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